Stay Present, Be Curious, Make a Request......by Cathy Smith
Have you ever planned a large, family gathering that didn't turn out how you thought it would? Weeks of preparation and days of work seemed wasted, and you were left with shattered expectations?
That exactly describes Thanksgiving 2017 for my family. Our five children are grown, two are married. We have always had Thanksgiving together, and we expected this year to be no different. My husband and I had thought it would be a fun family day, with lots of conversation and laughs to make the occasion memorable. Instead, everyone left after only two hours, and we were left staring at each other over a tableful of dirty dishes. No laughs, no conversations by the fireplace, no games. We didn't even get to the pies!
Our first question was, "What happened?" There hadn't been any blow-ups or arguments. It seemed that everybody just decided to leave for no apparent reason. Why?
As we began cleaning up, my initial urge was to lash out and say, "That is the LAST big Thanksgiving Dinner I am ever going to make!" I felt like saying that our adult children are selfish and rude. I was tempted to compare them to what I have done, as in, "I have never just left someone's house immediately after dinner, without even offering to help with the clean-up!"
But, I recognized that I didn't truly want to do any of those things. I wanted to STAY PRESENT, not make comparisons to the past or decisions about the future.
So, I began to dig in, BE CURIOUS, and ask myself some questions about the situation:
- First, was I clinging to what our gatherings had always looked like before, without making allowances for the changes of the past few years?
Now that the children are adults, it certainly makes sense that our gatherings will not always be like they were during the years when we all lived in the same house. Work schedules, trips, and plans with friends and in-laws will probably keep one or more of us away each year. I felt compelled to (as Marie Kondo says to do with items we no longer need) offer a few thoughts of gratitude for all the years of family Thanksgivings, precious times and memories that I treasure. I know that I have to let go of the "old" and be open to the "new."
- Next, I checked to see if I have a realistic view of our family dynamic, as it currently is.
I knew the answer to this one pretty quickly. As sad as it is for me to admit, some of my children just do not get along right now. In this social and political climate, people have vastly divided opinions and views on MANY issues, and it is no different with our children. Each has strong opinions about their own beliefs, and these differences have caused quite a bit of trouble between them over the past few years.
I began to see how I try to "make everyone get along" and present an image of a happy family when we are together. But, I see that this is not reasonable. Wouldn't it be better to let them work out their own issues, without forcing some of them into uncomfortable gatherings before they are ready? I need to let them come to terms with each other's views and (hopefully) find some common ground.
- Then, I thought about whether I respect their adulthood in planning our family gatherings. Do I ask for their input, or do I plan everything and expect them to just go along, as they did when they were young?
Yes, I could see that I haven't adapted to their status as adults. And, I haven't been open to what they can bring to the planning and execution of family events. What new traditions might we start and what fun times could we have if these talented, creative people got involved? Who knows, but I would like to find out.
- Finally, I had to ask myself who was responsible for my unfulfilled, rosy expectations. Did I MAKE A REQUEST that they ignored, or did I expect them to be mind readers?
I had to admit that I hadn't shared my expectations with anyone. None of them knew that I wanted to play a game and have a glass of wine with them by the fireplace. I had not made requests for any of these fun things. I could have asked for what I wanted, but I didn't.
So, I am looking forward to Christmas with a somewhat different mindset this year. We already know that not all of the children will be here on any one day, so our celebration will be spread out over several days. How fun! I have already communicated to everyone that I am very open to new ideas and that everything, save one, is open for discussion. The only thing I am keeping "set in stone" is our 25-year tradition of having take-out pizza and watching The Muppet's Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. (That is my request, and I will enjoy that time with whoever can be here that night.) I am excited to see what fun surprises and new memories will fill the next two weeks.
I just have to remember to:
1. Stay present,
2. Be Curious, and
3. Make a Request.